Dugan-MY16 Has The Right Mix For Question Time
Since making its European debut at ProLight+Sound in March, the Dugan-MY16 automated mic mixing card for Yamaha digital mixers is already proving a major success in the broadcast market. This includes use on BBC One’s Question Time, the UK’s flagship political debate programme.
Produced by Mentorn Media and recorded as live, Question Time features a high profile panel answering questions from the audience. It is broadcast from a different UK venue each week and poses a number of challenges for the programme’s audio company, Three Squared Production. The venue can be anything from a sports hall to a church and so the challenges regularly include difficult acoustics.
The show is mixed by engineer Jeremy Farnell or Three Squared owner Graham Backhouse on a Yamaha LS9-32 digital console. With up to 10 omnidirectional microphones open at the same time, normally they have to constantly ride the faders to tightly control gain before feedback, and ensure that colouration, background noise and any other unwanted sounds are kept to a minimum.
Providing up to 16 channels of automated mic mixing per card at 48kHz (or eight channels at 96kHz), the Dugan-MY16 helps the sound engineer because, instead of keeping the channel levels low and having to rapidly bring a fader up when someone speaks - which can often result in missed first syllables - the Dugan-MY16 means the operator can keep all the channels open at the required level without loss of quality.
It achieves this by gain sharing, which allocates the amount of overall gain across all of the open mic channels. With a number of channels open, this radically reduces background noise. However, once a panellist starts to speak, the card automatically allocates all the available gain to that channel, ensuring that they can be heard and effectively muting the rest. Should another panellist interrupt, their microphone automatically opens and shares the gain between the two mics, ensuring both are heard.
“The MY16-Dugan doesn’t use noise gates, so there are none of the audible artefacts associated with gating. There is no kind of threshold that you have to speak above or have the feeling that the mic is being switched on,” says Yamaha Commercial Audio’s Tree Tordoff. “In large conference and speech systems, the probability of feedback is hugely reduced without any change in EQ or compromise in mic quality.
“It not only makes life easier for the sound engineer, but also makes it much more natural for those speaking. They can talk as if they are having a normal conversation.”
The card has been highly successful in providing a solution to the Question Time audience and has impressed Jeremy Farnell. “Being an old school live sound engineer with 30 years experience, I was sceptical about auto mixers. But I’ve been delighted with the way the MY16-Dugan performs,” he says. “The card increases the intelligibility of the panel and reduces overall colouration of the broadcast sound, which keeps the broadcast sound supervisor happy too.”
The card proves its worth before recording even starts, helping Jeremy to deliver a high quality warm-up which has impressed all involved.
“We normally do a simulated debate to warm the audience up, which involves selecting audience members to act as panellists. It often turns out to be the most difficult part of the show because the mock panel often have no experience of public speaking,” he says. “It is also at this point of the show that the floor manager asks the audience if they can hear the debate. I often find myself stretching the laws of physics to find enough gain to amplify a weak voice before feedback. The Dugan card makes this aspect of the show unusually straightforward - for the first time I’m not asked to increase the level of any microphone.
“We also have no opportunity to ask any of the (real) panellists to speak up or project their voice if we are struggling for gain, we just have to make it work. With the Dugan card, even the most softly spoken panellist is heard with clear definition and intelligibility.”
A feature of the Dugan MY-16 is a remote display for Mac, PC or iPad, which allows the operator to see how the unit is working, letting the operator concentrate on the overall sound.
“It’s reassuring to watch the remote display of the card selecting and summing the microphones,” says Jeremy. “The visual reassurance allows you time to use your ears and listen. It means that I’m able to really listen to the sound of the debate, rather than having all of my attention focused solely on the mic channels. “Working in a situation with a television audience of four and a half million, the sound of the debate should be clear and, above all, an accurate reproduction of what is being said. So we really appreciate a piece of equipment which is well-designed, sounds good, is simple to use and makes our job easier.”